Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Top Ten Favorite Writing Spaces in the Twin Cities (in no particular order)

Loft Literary Center – This one goes with out saying, the energy is great.

Guthrie Theatre – This is one of my favorite surprises of the city. They actually encourage people to come hang out in the space. I usually find a nice chair by a window, a cup of tea and write. Free Wi-Fi.

Aster Café – Home to a breath taking out door patio with one of the greatest views of downtown Minneapolis. The Wi-Fi may be a little weak while sitting on the patio however it should not matter, your writing. ;-)

Wilde Roast Café - Fantastic interior, great menu, they have everything from alcohol to coffee. Wilde Roast is especially wonderful on rainy days and in the fall and winter. A word of caution, it is really busy on Sunday mornings.

Second Moon – A popular Death Pixie haunt, it is simply a homegrown coffee shop. The barista’s are cool and if they have time, will ask you what your writing.

Dunn Bros Coffee on 3rd & 3rd in downtown Minneapolis - It is really quiet, almost like a library.

Common Roots – Organic foods, great tea selection and plenty of plug-ins for your laptop.

Riverview Wine Bar & Café – A regular Pixie meeting place.

Architecture library on the U of M campus –One of the best-kept secrets. You can actually sit in cool chairs that you may see in architecture magazines.

My place – I have to admit, I’ve done a fantastic job in creating a writing spot in my flat. Quiet, comfortable and Shakespeare sits in a flowerpot staring at me. What more could you ask for?

If anyone has recommendations on places to check out, please do not hesitate to respond. :-)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Contrast in Characters

"Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things. The honest thief, the tender murderer, the superstitious atheist." ---Margaret Laurence


These words struck me as true. I think that, as writers, we are sometimes tempted to over- simplify characters because we are afraid that a character with too many contradictions in her nature won't be "believable." But sometimes the reason that we are drawn to characters, as writers and as readers, is because of the paradoxes in their personalities. When I first read the above quote, I thought of two things: First, I remembered a more experienced writer who advised me to create antagonists based on people I admired rather than people I hated, because the characters would be that much more interesting and complex. I have tried creating an antagonist based on someone I truly admire, President Obama, and the result was chilling. All the things I found so comforting in an ally--his unflappable calm, his fatherly sense of command, even his devotion to his family-- were truly intimidating in an enemy.
The other thing I thought about when I read this quote was a game I sometimes play in the car. I will read the bumper stickers on the cars around me and try to get a sense of who the owner of that car is trying to present herself to be. Then I'll try to think of something that contradicts that image and imagine a character based on that. For a simple example, that woman with all the pro-life stickers has had an abortion. When? Why? Or maybe it's just that the guy with the Bart Simpson stickers and the mud-flap girls graduated at the top of his med school class or the teenager with the punk radio station stickers is a violin prodigy or the VW van covered with peace stickers belongs to a former army general. I like to imagine what life circumstances would create these characters. I know that we can not make our characters as complex as real people-- this is fiction and a certain degree of simplification is necessary-- but I still find it interesting
when characters contradict themselves a bit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Science Fiction Resistance

The other night at dinner I was talking to my parents. These are two of the most supportive, open minded people around, just to establish that up front, but i still found myself launching into a long, fervent defensive explanation. This happens all the time actually. What was the point on which I had to explain yet again?
Why write science fiction and fantasy? Why not contemporary stuff? or plays? or drama? Why does it have to have magic in it?
I started with the usual, "It's what I love. It's what I'm good at etc." But i found myself, to my own suprise launching into a full scale defense of science fiction as a whole. I covered how it serves as a metaphor for social issues without being preachy, still being entertaining, and frankly, keeping people reading. Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek and the new Disctrict 9 are three fantastic examples of modern science fiction pushing itself to be socially relevant. Prison camps? The first on air inter-racial kiss? A gut wrenching look at how the human population treats immigrants? The metaphors are almost always clear, and yet no matter your point of view on the subject, people stick around and see the argument, because its presented in a way that is...well... cool.
In my latest story I talk a little bit about the "wierd kids, bullies, over use of psychiatric prescription drugs in young people, and parental sacrifice." I guarantee you a young person would be a million times more likely to finish a fantasy novel with those themes than to read the self help book, or a memior version.
America loves science fiction. Its just that not everyone is willing to admit it. Lost is one of the most popular shows on tv: totally science fiction. The biggest movies of last year? ALL science fiction. So why on earth when i say i write science fiction and fantasy, do I get wierd looks, and find myself explaining why that's what I write?
Any thoughts on Science Fiction Resistance? More importantly is this question: why do we write science fiction? As an artist we should always question our own work, even if the answer we land on is simply: "because its SO cool."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quote for the Day

"A poem is a serious joke, a truth that has learned jujitsu."

--William Stafford

Does that mean that it is possible to get your black belt in fiction?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Names

I love clever character names. If I had to say, from my limited, English-speaking USian point of view, Dickens and Rawlings are two of the best namers of characters. And Pratchett, can't forget him. It seems to be all about onomatopoeia, word origins and connotations. If you have a few hours to spend, check out the character lists on David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page.

I have a terrible time naming my characters. I have a tendency to use place-holders, and when I first started, I used an"AAA" and "BBB" system. Now I tend to use the names of similar characters from books and movies or the names of people I used to know or would like to know. I'm trying to match impressions of characters, not facts or reality. When I know them better, I give them proper names, but I wish I could just find the right name immediately.

Are you the kind of writer who just knows your characters names, or do you labor over it like me? Do you have a favorite character name? Am I asking for trouble by admitting I use my impressions of real people in creating fictional characters?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

From Mead to Moleskins

All you need to write is: a pen, a Mead notebook or Moleskin, an idea - you can write anywhere, anytime and place. Diablo Cody penned an award winning screenplay in between stripper gigs in Crystal Court. There are countless tales of writers penning their stories in the craziest places. (I'd love to hear about the craziest place you wrote.) So, what are you waiting for? Bring your notebook and pen! Then next time your in the doctor's office or waiting for your children, whip it open and write!!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So I guess I sort of finished a book...

The other night at a Deathpixies meeting I came to learn that I had actually finished the first book in the series i am working on. (I was as suprised as anyone.)
Very simply I was describing the second half of the book when Norma said, "Wait...other half? The section we just read was 15,000 words... how long do you think this is going to be?" I responded that I was pretty sure i'd be able to wrap it up in 80, 000 words. That's when they laughed at me. (totally good natured, friendly laughing of course) "Robbie, the average for your genre and target age group is 35, 000 ish."
Oops. Turns out that my natural tendancy to have a big climax at the middle of the story, inadvertantly lead me to write the climax at the end. My 80,000 word spread had lead me to to the mid way wrap up at around 40,000 (which i hear is a good length for the kind of thing i'm writing.) And that this whole second half I am working on, is actually the second book in the series. Who knew?
Anyone else have any funny stories about stumbling onto things? Having planned things one way and having your characters decide on a different direction? Or a book that started adult and ended up for kids? How do people feel about word counts and how important is it to know and adhere to the industry standards?
And in a totally unrelated matter, how rad is it that I finished a book?

Tate Hallaway's New Series

Over at my YA paranormal blog Children of the Night I'm blogging my excitement over Tate Hallaway's new YA vampire series, set right here in the Twin Cities. The first book is due out this time next year and I for one can't wait. More at http://childrenofthenightya.blogspot.com/

Friday, August 14, 2009

Trailer: Gentlemen Broncos

Here's the new trailer for "Gentlemen Broncos." Teenager, Benjamin, goes to writers camp and meets famous author, Ronald Chevalier, who steals his novel, Broncos.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Limitations/Focus

Someone once asked me, “do you think you’ll run out of ideas to write about?”
Immediately replied, “No, in fact, I am more afraid that my story ideas will out live me.”

Having said that: I need to say that one of my hindrances is the inability to focus. This means many stories are begun but few are finished. Lately, I’ve been soul searching to spot my saboteur when it comes to writing. This journey led me to the I Ching, or the Book of Change. I came across a passage about Limitations, (hexagram 60). Here are some insights (re-capped in my own words...)

If you look at the seasons, there is an order. This order brings balance and boundaries. One must set boundaries to operate within; with out limitations (guidelines) one becomes overwhelmed by possibilities - moving from one thing to the next without the ability to make a commitment to anything.

(Sound familiar to anyone?)

Take the time to acknowledge what derails you, spot your saboteur, try various solutions and you'll discover the path to fulfillment.

If you obsessively worry about: not being good enough…coming to the end of the story, rejection (or any other excuse).

If you think over think matters, you will muddle your intuition and continue to float from idea to idea.

To counter act this:

Stop.

Breathe.

Make a plan with clear focus on what you want to accomplish.


Know that your confidence in your project will be tested.

Don’t doubt yourself.
Remain confident.

Do not dwell in the past or future. Focus on now.

Stay positive about your project.
Surround yourself with people that can champion you onward to finish.

Know that if you are not in accord with your goals, you may feel indecision and conflict. When you are confident, you have unified thoughts and actions.


It is my hope you all remain confident writers and stick to your goals.

365 Challenge Part Deux

OK, after a conversation with Nola J. Moore, who reminded me about the looming deadlines for graduate school applications. I've decided to postpone the 365 Challenge, it will reappear at some point, I promise! Until then, I must focus. Sorry to have disappointed anyone.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."

--MGM executive's notes on Fred Astaire's screen test, 1928

Even an expert opinion is still just an opinion. Feel free to prove it wrong.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Emotional Soundtracking

Music is the hottest of the muses. I feel in recent years the importance and usefullness of using appropriate music to enhance the writing experience has registered in the writerly zeitgeist. Certainly i have been advocating it in Deathpixies meetings for years, but i also hear writers are putting out playlists of songs to go with their novels. I, myself, could give you, down to the song in each chapter, the playlist of my current novel in progress.
Of course listening to music is a good idea while writing, anytime you are sitting in front of your computer for those lengths of time, putting on a good pair of headphones and listening to music seems like a no-brainer to me. The particular practice i would like to plug here is SPECIFIC SOUNDTRACKING. I find it helpful, and really pretty fun, to use certain emotional themes that match whats going on in the story. No one denies that an effectively chosen song can literally double the effectivness of a scene in a film, why should we shortchange the movies playing out in our heads and going on to the page. Picking a really sad song list to listen to, while having sad stuff happen just psyches me into the right headspace. Maudlin perhaps, but your reader may appreciate you really getting into it. Getting into the emotions of a scene always seems to help my writing, and nothing gets you there like music.
Its gotten to the point where i have completely usurped some songs and now all i can think about when i hear them is the character whose theme they are to me. Music encapsulates emotions and moments, which is just what writers do. It seems a natural combination.

How about the rest of you? How do you implement music into your writing process? And for that matter how emotionally invested do you get? Does your heart rate raise when a fight breaks out in your story? Do you get butterflies when your characters catch eyes across the danceroom floor? Boy mine does.

Monday, August 10, 2009

On reading while writing....

I have yet to meet a writer who isn't an avid reader. Even more so, one of the first pieces of advice any budding writer will hear is "READ. LOTS." This is good advice. One of the best ways to learn how to tell a story is to examine how others do it.

The problem comes when one begins to tell stories of one's own. If, say, you read work you'd like to emulate, you run the risk of your own story becoming derivative or (possibly worse) of the mid-draft-my-work-will-never-be-that-good freakout. If you read things that are very, very different from your own work, you may find it hard to stay within the confines of your own style/genre (for better or worse).

Unfortunately for most of us, this is sort of a trial and error process. What reading will help you stay in the right headspace to write your story?

I've learned that reading YA while writing is a Really Bad Idea. My (very adult, rather dark) work becomes peppered with slang, and the vocabulary shrinks by about 150%. If I read similar (very adult, rather dark) work, insecurity sets in with a vengeance.

It was a really good day when I figured out that reading things with similar "mouth feel" - vocabulary, style, tone - to what I am aiming for is perfect, as long as they're in different genres. This means my nightstand is peppered with some rather diverse folks (Charles Stross has been keeping company with Margaret Atwood, and John Scalzi is hanging out with Toni Morrison), but I can write, and my writing is better for it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Calling Them As They See Them on Racism and Sexism

Kelly McCullough over at Wyrdsmiths http://wyrdsmiths.blogspot.com/ is joining in calling out the new "Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction" anthology for the lack of women writers and writers of color. Couldn't agree with him more.

A parallel discussion is going on in the world of YA where author Justine Larbalestier went public with her dismay over the cover that her US publisher, Bloomsbury, chose for her YA novel "Liar." The protagonist of the book is black, but the original cover showed a white girl. Now, thanks to outcry on the internet, Bloomsbury is reworking the jacket of the hardcover edition due out in October with new art featuring a black girl. The controversy has sparked a lot of discussion about whitewashing of covers and about racism in the marketing of YA books. (Brought to mind the whitewashing of Octavia Butler's covers in the world of scifi and fantasy publishing.) For more, check out discussion at Boing Boing http://www.boingboing.net/2009/07/23/race-and-book-covers.html and Publishers Weekly
http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6675065.html?nid=2788&source=link&rid=1516089744

School Starts Aug. 31st

My spouse and I have been talking a lot about how we need to schedule our work lives in order to meet our obligations. He owns his own web development business and has to juggle a work day that includes managing projects, clients and employees, and actually code websites. Not only does it take two separate sets of skills to manage and program, but managers and programmers use time in different way. Last week he sent me a link
to Paul Graham's discussion of the different ways interruptions affect managers and makers. Graham writes,
Most powerful people are on the manager's schedule. It's the schedule of command. But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.
I'm a stay-at-home parent with great kids. They're independent and creative and don't need my constant attention to remain occupied and content, but I still have to carve my writing time between random, intermittent interruptions. There are writers who manage to work, and work well, in these conditions, but I find that I need larger blocks of time, two to three hours at least to get past "getting started" and on to "working hard."

How about you? Are you able to work through the distractions or do you need a large block of uninterrupted time?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

365 Challenge

OK, Pixies, writers and fans, here is a challenge for y’all:

Write a short story, a day for 365 days. The stories can be a long as they need to be but the minimum is:


1 page, typed, double-spaced

Or
Two pages long hand in a regular sized notebook

Or

30 bar napkins

Or

6 pages in a

Or

Insert your own creative form here. (If you need a number, post a comment with: your creative format and I will give you a number….)

I wish I could take credit for this idea however, I cannot - the idea was originally executed by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. Ms. Parks wrote 1 play a day for a year, each play is wrote was preformed for 365 days. Here’s link to the website for a little more information:
http://www.365days365plays.com/about.php

Here are the logistics 365 Challenge will begin on September 1st 2009 ending on August 31st 2010. There will be blog that will showcase stories written. (The blog is NOT up yet). The blog will be linked to Death Pixies site. Any thoughts on the writing process will post to the Death Pixies blog every Thursday.

As I hammer out more details, I will post them…..

However, I am curious to hear feedback from everyone. Good idea? A little crazy? Would you commit to joining me on the adventure?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Making the Most of Your Time at Writers of the Future

This time last year I was getting ready to embark on my Writers of the Future adventure in LA, as a contest winner attending the workshops for volume 24. If you are right now getting ready for the volume 25 workshop (lucky you! The big anniversary year!) congratulations! Writers of the Future is like taking a condensed college course while being a debutante on a reality TV show rushing the coolest, geekiest sorority/fraternity on Earth. It can be an incredible experience if you make the most of it. Here’s my advice on how to do just that:

1. Get to know folks in advance. Our group had a live journal before we ever met and it made our first meeting more like a reunion. Track folks down on line and see if they want to be in touch to swap info about the contest, etc.

2. Be social! Many writers are shy. That’s why we’re writers. But WotF workshops week is a time to shelve the shyness. You will find that it is easy to get to know people at WotF because you have so much in common as writers and as fans of sci-fi and fantasy and because the intensive atmosphere of the workshop makes for quick bonding. These people are your peers and your support group: pick their brains, swap market info, reading lists, whatever. And don’t neglect the artists! We were told that our year was unique because the writers and illustrators mingled so much and I’m very glad that we did. The illustrators tend to be a more international bunch (because there’s no language barrier getting in the way of visual art) and the fact that I got to know them means that I now know talented people all over the world.


3. Check competition at the door. You have a healthy competitive streak-- you wouldn’t have won WotF if you didn’t-- and it may stand you in good stead in the rest of your career. But once you’re at the workshop, no one makes a distinction between first, second or third place (and we are all jealous of the published finalists because there’s a chance they will get to come back and do the workshop again!) Really, there was so little emphasis put on where people placed, I didn’t even realize that my room mate was one of the first place winners until the awards ceremony.


4. Trust that you belong here. Most people in our group admitted that they had a moment of feeling like a fraud, worrying that their entry was a fluke that they were not really good enough to be there. Everyone feels this way, but try to trust the judges. They have read thousands of entries and they saw something of potential in yours. Tell yourself, “I am good enough, smart enough, and dog gone it, I belong at WotF.”


5. Participate in the workshops. The workshops are challenging, thorough and fun. A huge amount of info is condensed into a short amount of time. You won’t be allowed to record, so come prepared to take notes. You will hear things from guest speakers that will blow your mind. Try to ask yourself, “What is the one question only this person can answer?” and then ask them that. Be brave. Volunteer. And if you get an assignment in workshop, follow the rules. You may be tempted to “cheat” to make yourself look good, but Tim Powers is psychic and he will know. Plus, you won’t learn as much if you cheat.


6. Sleep is for wussies. Okay, we want you healthy and shiny, so sleep a little, but basically you can sleep at home. All the best conversations happen post-midnight. Suck up your tired.


7. Talk to the pros. It can be intimidating to talk to writers you admire. You may be tempted to clam up to avoid looking stupid. But these pros have graciously agreed to be a resource for you and they wouldn’t be at WotF if they didn’t want to give back, so take them up on the offer. If you love their work, tell them so, then try to shelve your inner fan-boy or girl and act like a “colleague- in -training” because that is how you will be perceived at WotF. (One of my favorite WotF moments happened after the awards ceremony. Kevin J. Anderson came over to ask me to sign a copy of the anthology. I laughed and said that I felt a little funny having a best-selling author ask for my autograph. He looked genuinely surprised. “Why?” He said, “We’re colleagues now!” You will find that all the pros involved in WotF will be generous enough to show you that kind of respect.) Ask about their process, about the business, about their favorite movies. If you are shy about chatting up professionals, still challenge yourself to sit at their table at dinner, etc. You can learn a lot just by listening to professional writers chat about writing. And when in doubt, ask about their cats!

8.Don’t gripe. I know, you think that if someone flew you to LA and put you up in a nice hotel, you wouldn’t complain, but you might be surprised. WotF is a tight schedule and you will get tired (see “sleep is for wussies”, above.) Also, there are some people who bond through griping, and there is bound to be at least one moment where you feel like you are on one of those reality TV shows. But remember, a lot of people worked very hard to put this week together and one of them is probably within earshot at any given moment. There are thousands of writers who would happily take your place. The WotF people will do their best to spoil you, but it’s your job not to act spoiled.


9. Enjoy the awards ceremony. You may feel nervous about getting an award in front of a few hundred people. That’s only natural. But think of the awards ceremony as an opportunity to express your gratitude to the folks who brought you here by acting like a professional. In dressing, err on the side of formal (Women, go for the floor-length. I mean it. And bring a clutch—it’s a long evening and you can’t be lugging around a purse, but you’re going to want something for essentials like your speech!) Keep your thank you’s under thirty seconds. Speak from the heart. Write it down in advance—you may think you can speak off the cuff, but it’s hard to do in front of a crowd at an emotional moment. Use humor if you want but don’t be flip. The ceremony is photographed and filmed so it will live on forever on line and you might as well make it good. This is your introduction to several hundred potential friends, colleagues and readers who are passionate about sci-fi and fantasy. I put some thought into what I wanted to say on stage and, as a result, several people told me that they took the time to read my story in the anthology first, while they were waiting in line to have books signed after the ceremony. Remember that many people work all year to make the awards ceremony happen and their main reward is to have it come off well, so do your best to make that happen.


10.Keep in touch. Sadly, you can’t live in a hotel in California with a bunch of other writers forever. But the memory lives on. Our group formed a yahoo group to exchange news and it has been exciting to hear about other writers sales and awards, and extremely helpful to swap info on new markets, compare response times, and link up at conferences. We have become a real support group for each other. And if I ever make it to Australia, I have several couches to crash on.


I want to leave you with two of my favorite WotF moments. One happened the last night of the conference. The spouse of one of the winners congratulated me on my success. I thanked her, but said that we contest winners were still on the bottom rung of the ladder. “To me,” she said, “It doesn’t seem like rungs on a ladder. It seems more like a question of who is in the audience and who is back stage, and you just got awarded a backstage pass.” I realized that she was right. Later that evening, my friend and fellow contest winner David was talking with one of our mentors, author and former contest winner Steven Savile. It was our last night of the workshop and we were coming back to earth fast. “How much does this really count for?” David asked, “I mean, sure, my story won but it was only one story.” Steven looked him in the eye. “It’s not just one story,” he said, “It’s your first story.”

Here’s wishing you many more stories, and a truly door-opening time at WotF!

Procrasti.... aww heck i'll finish typing that later.

So... here we are... 4:02 on a tuesday night... or a wednesday morning depending on the angle... this is literally the last minute... the very very last minute. And yet, today is the day i decided that i would blog. I had every intention of getting right at this blogging thing, making the most of it and dropping a blog that would 'wow'. Yet here i am, at 4:02 (4:05 now if we want to get really technical) and i am only just getting to blogging, a thing i most certainly want to do. What in the blue wide spinning world kept me from blogging till now?
Well i'll tell you: stuff.
A myriad of stuff that fills up your day quickly and before you know it takes over.
When I woke up this morning, I walked in and flipped on the Xbox (my first mistake, but i'd do it again the same way, you just see if i wouldn't) and learned that my all time favorite game (fallout 3 a game taking place in a retro fifities future where china and amaerica decided to drop nukes all over eachother) had just released a new download in which, i kid you not, your character is abuducted by aliens and needs to fight his way off of a giant mothership.)
So of COURSE instead of blogging i looked up all the info on this patch, while it downloaded so i could play it of course, and that was the morning.
Then I went to work. The remount of a play, Snoopy the musical if you are intersted, being staged on the Artcenter on 7 mainstage. I thought i might have a few minutes to blog something cutesy via my iphone before rehersal started (i have this whole thing on soundtracking while you write, check in next week) but of course there were set pieces missing, so i had to navigate to the other end of the building past a literal gauntlet of behemoth mini vans and angry parents dumping their children off at summer athletics.
So much for that.
Then I got home and what time was it? 8:34 ... gosh didn't my best friend's bachelor party start at 7? yup...yup it sure did.
Procrastination isn't just for term papers. All of us, aspiring creative professionals or not, procrastinate, push off, leave off or otherwise stall. Why? Why in the world do we do this? ESPECIALLY when its something that we REALLY want to do, and that leaves us feeling so complete. (I literally get crabby if i havn't written in a while and smile like a cheshire cat if i have) The answer is of course something i will get around to thinking about enough to answer eventually....
The answer is clearly not the point. The point is: here i am. Completing the goal that i set out for myself: blog on tuesday. Now it is 4:21. (I listened to a few really good songs by Bat for Lashes and took a bathroom break in the middle) and i am doing what i set out to do.
I think the moral of the bloggy story is that you, and I, and everyone will always put everything off to the latest possible moment, but as long as you have SET when that last possible moment IS, damn if it doesn't get done. For those of us who set out to do something like write a book, the schedule is all ours to make, which is why (in my opinion) so few of us ever finish. The entirety of the scheduling falls into a etheral undecided upon realm and we can keep pushing it back and stalling and hymming and hawwing all we want. But the human animal, under pressure, can really excel and get things done. (4:25 if you are counting) The trick is convincing yourself that the deadlines you set for yourself matter. (this is where a writers group, fan base, or spousy type can really help you be accountable to these arbitrary deadlines.)
So i think we can all learn this tonight...or rather this morning: We are definitely going to procrastinate... but if we are willing to make a few 4:27 finishes, boy oh boy, it might actually get done after all.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Art of Collaboration

I'm a big fan of jazz. So much so that I'm planning a novel where it plays a central role, just so I have an excuse to hear and participate in it more (OK, there's more to the novel than that, but the jazz helps).

Jazz is an improvisational art - you make it up as you go along. You play off your knowledge of the rules of music and how well you can bend and break them. You do your best to tell a story, to convey a mood, a meaning. Sound familiar? If I wanted to, I could stop there. Jazz is a lot like writing, you have to break rules, take chances, practice to be great, blah blah blah... Heh. You know me better than that by now (and if you don't, you will).

The thing about jazz that appeals to me? Jazz is a highly collaborative art. The best jazz happens when a bunch of folks get together and take advantage of each other's brains. One plays a theme, another suggests a variation and the song takes flight, bigger that it would have been on it's own.

Writing, generally, is not collaborative. Most writers labor away by themselves, pushing pens and computer keys, banging their heads against the wall alone when things aren't going their way. At least, that's what I used to think.

Turns out that a lot of the successful writers I know? They practically refuse to work alone. Now, I'm not talking about multi-authored books here. Everyone's working on their own projects, their own babies, but they're doing it together. They're in writer's groups. They workshop. They bounce ideas off one another, talk through plots. They send bits of work back and forth for feedback (or just a "No, honey, of course you don't suck"). They hang out in coffee shops together, hunched over laptops and lattes, sharing energy and insight.

The moral of the story is this: if you are a struggling writer, look around. Who are you talking to? Who are you hanging out with? When was the last time you shared your work? Talked about your struggles? Whined about how every time you sit down to write your cat sits on your computer? Called a fellow writer just to read the really freaking cool sentence you just finished?

Try it. See where it takes you. I dare you...